Local Media Fail To Cover Climate Denial, ALEC Link

››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

Starting in 2008 seven states -- Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas -- passed measures or promoted policies that would change the education curriculums in their states to begin teaching "different perspectives" in environmental science instruction. The major newspapers in each of these states gave varying coverage to the issue with some not even covering the issue at all. In addition a Media Matters investigation shows that, despite the appearance that these state proposals and model legislation by the conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), not once did these newspapers mention ALEC or their model legislation in their coverage.

What Is ALEC?

ALEC "Exists To Bring Business-Friendly State Lawmakers Together With Lobbyists For Corporations." From Fortune magazine:

The organization, founded in 1973 and funded mostly by corporations and conservative foundations, exists to bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations, including AT&T (T), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Wal-Mart (WMT), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). It drafts model bills related to its goals of free markets and limited government. Issues that ALEC has influenced include Arizona's anti-immigration law, tort reform in Mississippi, and the opposition to Net neutrality.

[...]

In the 2009 legislative session, by ALEC's reckoning, state lawmakers introduced 826 bills the group conceived -- 115 of which made it into law. That's quite a record, and it's going to get stronger. One overlooked aspect of the Republican resurgence has been its revolution at the state level. The GOP picked up more than 700 seats in state legislatures and now controls 25 of those bodies outright, from 14 before November. [Fortune, 1/10/11]

"Close To 1,000 Bills" Based On ALEC Model Legislation Are Introduced In State Legislatures Each Year. From ALEC's website:

To date, ALEC's Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law. [ALEC.org, accessed 3/15/12]

NRDC: ALEC Is "The Ultimate 'Trojan Horse' For Industry Forces Seeking To Bend State Laws." From the Natural Resources Defense Council:

"While the Congressional debate over campaign finance reform has focused the nation's attention on corporate influence over politics at the federal level, ALEC provides a chilling example of even more brazen manipulation involving state legislatures," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "ALEC is the ultimate 'Trojan Horse' for industry forces seeking to bend state laws to maximize corporate profits, often at the expense of citizens and the environment."

ALEC touts itself as a membership association of state legislators. But corporations and trade associations finance virtually all of ALEC's activities. [NRDC.org, 2/28/02]

Newspapers In States With Climate Denial Education Measures Ignored ALEC's Influence On The Debate

Summary/Methodology

ALEC promulgated a model climate science denial bill in 2000. Starting in 2008, seven states -- Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas -- passed similar measures. However, despite the extensive and obvious influence of ALEC on these state initiatives, state media has largely ignored the group.

The following is a record of mentions of ALEC in the pages of the aforementioned states' largest newspapers as well as Texas' second largest newspaper (ranked by total circulation, based on numbers provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations) since January 1, 2007 (based on a Nexis search using "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council") and their appearance in articles relating to a bill title or bill number pertaining to climate denial teaching measures. [Audit Bureau of Circulations, Accessed 4/4/12]

(NOTE: Wire service reports appearing in a newspaper are not always included in the Nexis database.)

Louisiana's New Orleans Times-Picayune

The Louisiana Bill "Mirrors The Provisions Of The ALEC Bill." According to the DeSmogBlog:

The Louisiana bill calls for, "an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including...global warming..." The bill also calls for "instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner."

This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC bill which say that teachers should "provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific...controversies," and mandates that "balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will...be used." [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The New Orleans Times-Picayune Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill But Has Mentioned The Bill 40 Times. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "Louisiana Science Education Act" or "Louisiana Science and Education Act" or "S.B. 733" or "SB 733" or "Senate Bill 733") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. However, the bill was mentioned by the paper 40 times since January 1, 2007. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

South Dakota's Sioux Falls Argus Leader

The South Dakota Bill "The Bill Mirrors The Provision Of The ALEC Bill That Call For The Providing Of 'A Range Of Perspectives Presented In A Balanced Manner.'" According to DeSmogBlog:

In 2010, the South Dakota Legislative Assembly passed House Concurrent Resolution 1009, a non-binding resolution introduced by 33 members of the House of Representatives and 6 members of the Senate, 39 in total, and 12 of whom are current members of ALEC. The bill calls for "balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools of South Dakota."

[...]

The bill mirrors the provision of the ALEC bill that call for the providing of "a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner." [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill And Has Never Mentioned The Bill. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "House Concurrent Resolution 1009" or "HCR 1009") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. In addition, the bill was never mentioned by the paper. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

Kentucky's Louisville Courier-Journal

Kentucky's Bill "Mirrors Major Provisions Of The ALEC Model Bill." According to DeSmogBlog:

Two key provisions of the H.B. 397 "encourage local district teachers and administrators to foster an environment promoting objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories" and "allow teachers to use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories including...global warming..."

This bill mirrors major provisions of the ALEC model bill that say teachers should "provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific...controversies," and mandates that "balanced and objective environmental education materials and programs will...be used." [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The Louisville Courier-Journal Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill And Has Never Mentioned The Bill. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act" or "H.B. 397" or "HB 397" or "House Bill 397") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. In addition, the bill was never mentioned by the paper. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

New Mexico's Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico's Bill "Mirrors The Provisions Of The ALEC Model Bill." According to DeSmogBlog:

H.B. 302 says that schools shall "not prohibit any teacher, when a controversial scientific topic is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to that topic." One "controversial scientific topic" listed is the "causes of climate change."

This bill mirrors the provisions of the ALEC model bill which call for teaching "a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner," teaching "different perspectives" to allow for students to "form their own opinions," and creating an "atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas." [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The Albuquerque Journal Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill But Has Mentioned The Bill Once. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "H.B. 302" or "HB 302" or "House Bill 302") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. However, the bill was mentioned by the paper once. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

Tennessee's Nashville Tennessean

Tennessee's Bill Is "Essentially A Replica Of The ALEC Model Bill." According to DeSmogBlog:

Tennessee's House bill, H.B. 368, essentially a replica of the ALEC model bill, overwhelmly passed the House in April 2011, but its Senate-version cousin, S.B. 893, failed to pass. As the Los Angeles Times article makes clear, efforts to push the bill through are far from over.

Key clauses of that bill read,

  • "[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."
  • "[P]ublic elementary and secondary schools...[should]...respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."

These excerpts match, almost to a "T," bullet points one, three and four of the ALEC model bill. [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The Nashville Tennessean Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill But Has Mentioned The Bill 5 Times. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "H.B. 368" or "HB 368" or "S.B. 893" or "SB 893" or "House Bill 368" or "Senate Bill 893") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. However, the bill was mentioned by the paper 5 times. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

Oklahoma's Oklahoma City Oklahoman

The Oklahoma Bill's First Bullet "Is Exactly The Same In Both The Tennessee And Oklahoma Bills." According to DeSmogBlog:

Titled, the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," H.B. 1551 is also essentially a copycat of Tennessee's version of the ALEC model bill -- it failed to pass. A Senate version of that bill, S.B. 320, was also proposed in 2009, but failed to pass through committee.

Key clauses of that bill read (emphases mine),

  • "[T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."
  • "[N]o student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories."

Notice how the first bullet is exactly the same in both the Tennessee and Oklahoma bills -- also notice how similar bullet number two is in both language and substance in both states' bills. [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

The Oklahoma City Oklahoman Has Not Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Bill But Has Mentioned The Bill 5 Times. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act" or "H.B. 1551" or "HB 1551" or "S.B. 320" or "SB 320" or "Senate Bill 320") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial bill. However, the bill was mentioned by the paper 5 times. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

Texas' Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle

Instead Of Proposing A Bill, "The Texas School Board Passed An Amendment Calling For 'Balanced' Teaching Of Climate Change, Meaning Both Science And 'Skepticism.'" According to DeSmogBlog:

Texas, in this case, is a bit of a wild card. Rather than a bill proposed by a state legislature, in 2009, the Texas School Board passed an amendment calling for the "balanced" teaching of climate change, meaning both science and "skepticism."

The Austin Statesman explained,

"The State Board of Education...adopted standards on the teaching of global warming that appear to both question its existence and prod students to explore its implications.

Standards are used to guide textbook makers and teachers.

Language...instructed students to 'analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming,'"

[...]

This provision mirrors and is likely inspired by the ALEC model bill provision on global warming, which suggested science teachers should "Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner. [DeSmogBlog.com, 1/26/12]

Neither The Dallas Morning News Nor The Houston Chronicle Has Mentioned ALEC in Conjunction With The Climate Change Denial Measure And Only The Houston Chronicle Has Mentioned The Measure At All. Since January 1, 2007 (based on a LexisNexis search for "ALEC" or "American Legislative Exchange Council" and "Texas School Board" or "School Board" or "State Board of Education" and "Climate Change" or "Global Warming" or "Climate Science") ALEC is never mentioned in conjunction with the climate change denial Measure. However, the measure was mentioned only by the Houston Chronicle three times. [LexisNexis, 1/1/07 - 4/4/12]

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